About That “Patriotism” Survey . . . .

Earlier this week, on the eve of the Fourth of July, Gallup released a poll that addressed how Americans feel about their country.  The provocative lead to the Gallup story, which produced a lot of equally provocative headlines around the country, was as follows:

“This Fourth of July marks a low point in U.S. patriotism. For the first time in Gallup’s 18-year history asking U.S. adults how proud they are to be Americans, fewer than a majority say they are “extremely proud.” Currently, 47% describe themselves this way, down from 51% in 2017 and well below the peak of 70% in 2003.”

83240-fullNot surprisingly, in view of the current occupant of the White House, the percentage of Democrats and liberals who describe themselves as “extremely proud” of being an American has declined.  But note that the 47% figure addresses only those people who describe themselves as at the highest pride level available on the survey.  The vast majority of the respondents still expressed significant pride in their country, with 25% saying they are “very proud” and 16% who are “moderately proud.”  That adds up to close to 90 percent of the respondents.

The first paragraph of the Gallup release also makes, in my view, a significant error in equating “extreme pride” with “patriotism.”  In my view, patriotism means you love and care about your country, not that you are blind to its issues;  patriotism is not “my country, right or wrong.”  You can be devoted to and supportive of your country without feeling “extremely proud” that you are an American at a particular point in time.  Changes in “extreme pride” say a lot more about how Americans are feeling about the course the country is on than they do about how Americans feel, deep down, about their country, its history, its freedoms, and its opportunities.

I’d be willing to be that everyone who is vigorously opposing the various initiatives of the Trump Administration is doing so because they are convinced that opposing such initiatives is the way to make America an even better place to live.  They may not be “extremely proud” of their country right now, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t patriotic.

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Calithreenia

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a curious measure on the California ballot this November.  The proposal would split California into three different states that would be separately governed.  The last time that happened with an existing state was 1863, when loyalist West Virginia broke off from secessionist Virginia during the Civil War.

202574-fullThe three new states that would be created by the proposal are “Northern California,” which runs from the northern border of the current state to the middle of the state and includes cities like San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento, “Southern California,” which runs from the middle of the state down to the border with Mexico and includes cities like San Diego, Anaheim, and Fresno, and “California,” which is geographically much smaller in size and encompasses California’s crowded coastal area, running from Long Beach in the south up to Monterey in the middle of the state and including Los Angeles.  Whatever else you might think of the proposal, I think we can all agree it fails miserably in the “creative state naming” area.

The ballot measure was spearheaded and funded by a venture capitalist who apparently has made it his life’s mission to break California up.  Previously, he tried to split the state into six parts — which he now thinks was just too many for voters to stomach.  “This is a chance for three fresh approaches to government,” he told a newspaper in an interview.  “Three new states could become models not only for the rest of the country, but for the whole world.”

When I was out in California recently, I asked some people about the ballot measure and what they thought.  I didn’t find any proponents, but did find people who were worried less about becoming models for the world and more about practical things — like water, which is a pretty scarce commodity in what would be “Southern California” and is primarily supplied by “Northern California.”  There also would be challenging questions involved in allocating infrastructure and accounting for its cost.  And the people I spoke to also indicated that they like the Golden State the way it is — a big, sprawling, incredibly diverse state that offers lots of different climates and geographical areas and encompasses some of the country’s most iconic cities.

Even if California voters pass the measure, the break-up apparently would need to be approved by Congress, which would be no sure thing.  It’s not at all clear that other parts of the country would want to add four new Senators from the west coast — or two more stars to the national flag.  Fifty is a good, round number.  52?  Not so much.

The Bruising Battle To Come

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurrence in Trump v. Hawaii turned out to be a kind of farewell message from the longtime jurist, who announced his retirement yesterday after the end of the Supreme Court’s term.  His call for care and adherence to constitutional principles in the statements and actions of government officials in that concurrence has a special resonance now, as the nation moves forward into what will undoubtedly be a bruising battle over the nomination of his successor.

1200px-ussupremecourtwestfacadeThese days, every Supreme Court nomination is a huge event, but the replacement of Justice Kennedy is a special moment.  He has long been seen as the crucial “swing” vote in important, hotly contested cases that ultimately were decided by a 5-4 margin, and a centrist who might side with the liberal position in one case and the conservative position in another.  As a result, Republicans see the nomination of his replacement as a chance to reorient the Court, eliminate the “swing,” and lock in a predictably conservative majority — which is exactly what Democrats fear.  And who can blame them?  These days, with Congress often rendered inert by infighting and inability to compromise and the Executive Branch governing by executive order, the Supreme Court is increasingly seen, and has increasingly acted, as the ultimate decider of all kinds of policy issues that used to be reserved for the political branches of government.

The upcoming confirmation process will not be a high-minded moment for our country.  With passions already at full boil, and with Democrats angered by fresh memories of the Senate Republicans’ refusal to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland in the last year of President Obama’s term and Republicans recalling the Senate Democrats’ use of the “nuclear option” when the Democrats were in the majority, we can expect a heated, partisan, no-holds-barred process.

This means that the nominee, whoever it is, will receive the most exacting examination imaginable.  You can be sure that every organization, position, and activity on the nominee’s resume, from college days forward, will be put under a microscope, and every word in every opinion the nominee has written will be inspected and weighed for signs of intrinsic bias that could be used to argue against confirmation.  Can a President who has lots of skeletons in his own personal closet, and who has struggled to identify qualified individuals to fill positions in his Administration, actually select a nominee who can withstand the spotlight that will be directed at everything he or she has done?  And how many potential nominees — and their families — will quail at the prospect of such personally intrusive, withering scrutiny?

It’s not going to be pretty, folks.

The End Of Korematsu And Justice Kennedy’s Concurrence

Yesterday the Supreme Court upheld the latest version of President Trump’s travel ban, by a 5-4 vote.

The Court majority relied upon a provision of federal law that gives the President the power to “suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens” as he or she sees necessary, noted that the provision falls within a recognized area of presidential powers — foreign affairs — and “exudes deference to the president in every clause,” and reasoned that the current version of the executive order was neutrally phrased and “expressly premised on legitimate purposes: preventing entry of nationals who cannot be adequately vetted and inducing other nations to improve their practices.”  The Court majority noted the anti-Muslim statements of President Trump cited by opponents of the travel ban — which were catalogued by the dissenting justices, who reasoned that the statements established that the President acted with anti-Muslim animus that should invalidate his travel ban order — but concluded that the statements were not sufficient to overturn a neutrally structured proclamation authorized by a broad federal law given the limited review the judiciary can give to such presidential acts.

Notably, the majority overruled Korematsu v. United States, an odious World War II-era Supreme Court decision that upheld President Roosevelt’s decision to forcibly move American citizens of Japanese descent into internment camps — a decision that has long been a black eye for the nation’s highest court.  The Court rejected the dissenting justices’ argument that upholding the current travel ban was akin to the decision in Korematsu, saying that “it is wholly inapt to liken that morally repugnant order to a facially neutral policy denying certain foreign nationals the privilege of admission” because “[t]he entry suspension is an act that is well within executive authority and could have been taken by any other President—the only question is evaluating the actions of this particular President in promulgating an otherwise valid Proclamation.”  The Court added, however, that the dissent’s reference to Korematsu “affords this Court the opportunity to make express what is already obvious: Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and—to be clear—“has no place in law under the Constitution.”

9th_circuit_trump_84941_c0-45-1437-882_s885x516Also notable is the brief concurring opinion of Justice Kennedy, one of the “swing” justices on the Court whose vote was crucial to upholding the ban.  His brief concurrence ends with the following two paragraphs:

“In all events, it is appropriate to make this further observation. There are numerous instances in which the statements and actions of Government officials are not subject to judicial scrutiny or intervention. That does not mean those officials are free to disregard the Constitution and the rights it proclaims and protects. The oath that all officials take to adhere to the Constitution is not confined to those spheres in which the Judiciary can correct or even comment upon what those officials say or do. Indeed, the very fact that an official may have broad discretion, discretion free from judicial scrutiny, makes it all the more imperative for him or her to adhere to the Constitution and to its meaning and its promise.”

“The First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion and promises the free exercise of religion. From these safeguards, and from the guarantee of freedom of speech, it follows there is freedom of belief and expression. It is an urgent necessity that officials adhere to these constitutional guarantees and mandates in all their actions, even in the sphere of foreign affairs. An anxious world must know that our Government remains committed always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to preserve and protect, so that freedom extends outward, and lasts.”

As Supreme Court opinions go, this is a pretty strong admonishment of President Trump to stop with the vituperation and vilification and start expressing the high-minded principles on which our nation was founded.  Nevertheless, many people have criticized Kennedy’s concurrence as empty words, and an abdication of the judiciary’s role to act as a check on the excesses of the executive branch, and others have called the notion that President Trump might actually be mindful of such sentiments a “fairy tale.”

I view it differently:  Justice Kennedy realizes that Supreme Court decisions must consider the long term, and can’t simply be motivated by the passions or personalities of the moment; he fears that a precedent stating that a president’s statements while campaigning or governing can be broadly infused into judicial review of otherwise neutral executive actions could have untold consequences in the future.  But he also felt it was essential to express what many of us feel — we want a President to act presidential in every sense of the word.  So he took the extraordinary act of calling out the President on that issue.  But will President Trump hear him?

 

A Course Everyone Should Take

Students often come to college with their own set of impressions about the people in the world around them, whether they’ve ever personally interacted with those people or not.  That’s not a criticism of college students, it’s a reality of modern life.  We all live in our own little worlds, and we form impressions about what others might be like based on the news that we allow to filter into our bubbles.

img_20180526_130448But what if people tried to get out of their bubbles and actually meet some of the people they’ve formed impressions about, to see what their lives are like and experience their worlds?  That’s what the Harvard Institute of Politics tried to accomplish with something called the Main Street Project.  The goal was to get Harvard students, most of whom hailed from the coasts, out into places in flyover country where they could meet real people who live and work in the heartland.  The group of students visited towns in western Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, saw people working at their jobs, and went to the restaurants where the locals go.  They stayed in bed and breakfasts owned by locals, traveled in a van, and took the back roads.  In the process, they even met a few Trump voters and went to a gun range where women were engaged in some vigorous target practice.

As one of the organizers wrote:  “Even though these kids had almost all been raised in the United States, our journey sometimes felt like an anthropology course, as though they were seeing the rest of the country for the first time.”  The students admitted that they “had been fed a steady diet of stereotypes about small towns and their folk: “backwards,” “no longer useful,” “un- or under-educated,” “angry and filled with a trace of bigotry” were all phrases that came up.”  But as they traveled through places like Youngstown, Ohio, meeting good people who were living happy, productive lives, the students saw the stereotypes break apart.

None of the students got course credit or a grade for participating in the Main Street Project, but they did get an education.  One of the student organizers said:  “The best way to blow apart a stereotype is to challenge it” — and he is right.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone, regardless of their age, had a similar opportunity to meet people and challenge some of the stereotypes that we all carry around?

Political Propriety

The Tony Awards broadcast was last night.  Actor Robert DeNiro, who appeared to talk about Bruce Springsteen, thought it was appropriate to come out, pump his arms in the air, and say “F*** Trump.”  Twice.

DeNiro then received a standing ovation from those in attendance.

1528693568996It’s just another example of how our national political discourse has run totally off the rails, and people have lost their minds.  We’ve got a President whose unseemly tweets and unusual behavior push the envelope in one direction, and the people who ardently oppose him are pushing the envelope in the opposite direction.  When somebody decides the time is right to appear on a live broadcast that is supposed to be celebrating American theater and start dropping f-bombs, though, we’ve reached a new low.  And when the high-brow, tuxedo-clad audience decides that the appropriate response to the vulgarity is to give the speaker a standing ovation, we’ve reached a lower point still.

DeNiro’s comments couldn’t have come as a surprise.  He’s launched into profanity-laced tirades about President Trump before, including when he introduced Meryl Streep at a different awards ceremony earlier this year.  Did the Tony Awards decision-makers think DeNiro had mended his ways, or did they think, instead, that having the unpredictable — or, perhaps, entirely predictable — DeNiro on as part of the broadcast might just result in an incident exactly like what actually happened, that would help to get the Tony Awards program a little more attention and more news coverage?

I don’t have a problem with people opposing or criticizing President Trump — obviously. But name-calling and profanity aren’t exactly calculated to persuade people about the wrong-headedness of President Trump’s policies, or conduct.  Instead, it just looks like a classless, desperate bid to get some attention that isn’t going to persuade anybody about anything — except, perhaps, that the people who think launching a few f-bombs on a live broadcast, and the people who reacted with a standing ovation, have lost their minds.

Is it too much to expect a little reasoned discourse, and some political propriety?  These days, is it too much to hope that people can refrain from using the Queen Mother of Curses in connection with the President on a live television broadcast?  Apparently so.

Winging It

The on-again, off-again, on-again summit meeting with North Korea is set to occur next Tuesday in Singapore.  Yesterday, President Trump confirmed reports that he’s not exactly cramming and burning the midnight oil to prepare for the meeting.

5e6mikironhllmggtkqbd54s4i“I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s about attitude,” he said. “I think I’ve been prepared for this summit for a long time, as has the other side.”  President Trump, who says the meeting won’t just be a “photo op” and may be the first of several meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, added:  “I think I’m very well prepared.”

The President believes that his tough language about North Korea and Kim has been a key factor in bringing North Korea to the table.  He uses the phrase “maximum pressure” to describe his approach to the country that has long been an international pariah, and said: “If you hear me using the term ‘maximum pressure,’ you’ll know the negotiations didn’t go very well.”  Nevertheless, President Trump predicts that the summit meeting will be a “great success.”

A year and a half into the Trump presidency, we’ve long since realized that President Trump isn’t like most people, who would never dream of going into an important meeting with an isolated, notoriously unpredictable country that feels like an international outcast and has been working to develop a nuclear weapons program to attract attention, put its neighbors on edge, and give it a louder voice in the world.  But President Trump is matching, and maybe even exceeding, North Korea in the unpredictability department, having first abruptly cancelled the summit, then determined that it is back on again.

So, is President Trump just supremely self-confident about everything he does, including meeting foreign dictators who have virtually no relations with other countries?  Or, does the President think that saying he hasn’t been spending much time hitting the briefing books helps to set the framework for the negotiations and gives him an advantage of sorts?  Is the statement that the summit is about “attitude” supposed to convey that the United States doesn’t think there’s much to discuss at this point beyond getting North Korea to end its nuclear program?  Or is it to communicate to North Korea that it isn’t really important enough to demand a big chunk of the President’s time?  Or is the plan to make Kim feel overconfident that he’ll be able to pull a fast one on a negotiator who admittedly hasn’t tried to master the details?  Or, is there some other, deep, Art of the Deal-type negotiation game afoot?

With President Trump, you never know.  But hey — what could go wrong?